What is love?
By: Bethany McIlrath
We know about many characteristics of love, traits like those listed in 1 Cor 13; patience, kindness, humility, etc. We certainly are aware of examples of Biblical love, like that provided in John 3:16. The Bible teaches us much about the actions and consequences of love, as in Romans 13 or John 15, which describe doing no wrong to a neighbor or laying down one’s life for a friend as loving.
But…what is love?
The definition that has most stood out to me is found on page 128 of R.T. France’s Commentary on Matthew. He states that love for others “will issue in prayer…it is not just a sentimental feeling but an earnest desire for their good”.
An earnest desire for their good. What a beautiful phrase.
Consider what this means. Love is not about how we feel. It is not about how others feel. To love others is not to please them (in fact, Galatians 1:10 reminds us that our goal is not to please people). Loving people is not about gift giving, intimacy, or even growing in a relationship.
To love someone is to desire for them that they know and follow the Lord. That is the “good” that we all need, the best a person can do. It is the greatest wish or prayer we can offer for another person.
This truth is so freeing and so challenging. The requirements of such a love are not what we expect. But then…that is often the case when we cease imposing our worldly definitions on the principles and concepts of the Bible.
- Love means speaking the truth, even when it is painful, so that we better follow the Lord.
- Love requires us to build others up, even when they’ve torn us down.
- Love asks us to remove ourselves when we become stumbling blocks, so that others are not dissuaded from the path of righteousness.
- Love keeps us quiet when we want to hand out answers but the Spirit is already responding.
- Love teaches us to pray that others accept His mercy, even when we see clearly that they do not deserve it -we’ve never deserved it either.
- Love gives us a spirit of forgiveness because it is through forgiveness that Christ enables us to stand before God the judge.
- Love causes us to do the things, big or small, that don’t please us, when another will see or experience the Lord through the process.
- Love leads us away and leads us to stay depending on the way of the work of the Lord in another’s life.
Love dismisses the question of what we desire for ourselves and commands us to desire instead for others -that they too may have the full assurance of faith and submit to the light, easy burden and yoke of the only master who -indeed- loves us enough that His desire for our good broke the bonds of sin and death forever and for all who will receive His mercy.
True and absolute love, like that of Christ, surpasses all understanding (Eph 3:19). This perfect love of God’s is the desire that all will come to know His truth and be saved (1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). While we were still His enemies, God desired this for us (Romans 5:8).
Praise the Lord that, as John says repeatedly in His writings, we can love each other truly. Praise the Lord that, even when we don’t and can’t seem to feel affection, we can love others. Praise the Lord that, despite our mistakes or the failures of others, our love can be manifested in prayer for other people. Let our desire be that every person we encounter see Jesus as He is.